YEA's mission is to serve young adults in breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Denver communities by gaining personal and economic stability through education and employment training.
In 2007, the Youth Employment Academy (YEA) was established at Denver Housing Authority to provide specific opportunities in education and employment for low-income youth and young adults ages 14-21 in the Denver metro area. Partnering with the City and County of Denver Office of Economic Development Youth Services, among other agencies, YEA provided services to underserved youth that guided them to graduate from high school, earn their GED, earn industry specific certificates, attend post-secondary education, receive hands-on job training and become employed.
Beginning in 2009, YEA observed that many of the youth we served were lacking in skills and job training needed in specific demand driven industries. We noted that many youth, if they did graduate from high school, were funneled to college, ill-prepared and then dropped out and/or had little knowledge about career paths that were open to them - wasting their financial aid funding. In addition, with the recession, youth were not being hired for entry level jobs that were previously open to them. Young adults that had dropped out or were facing other barriers such as being an English language learner, a young parent or having a criminal record were provided even fewer opportunities for their future. YEA addressed these issues by working with area employers in the culinary/hospitality and healthcare fields and developing industry-specific academies (the Pre-Professional Occupations in Healthcare Academy and Culinary Academy) to provide intensive career exploration and hands-on training in order that youth might become employed or move into the next level of post-secondary education needed for their career. YEA then added a Customer Service Academy in 2012 and an Advanced Manufacturing/Engineering Academy in 2013. In addition, YEA continued to provide intensive mentoring through case management, tutoring, paid work internships and job coaching to address all issues the youth were facing.
In 2012, YEA moved forward and became its own 501(c)(3). This change allowed YEA to move from receiving funding solely from the Denver Housing Authority and government grants and look towards other ways to generate income. Working with our industry partners, YEA saw a need for hands-on training in the culinary industry outside of the classroom. In addition, DHA was in the process in building a vibrant community in the La Alma neighborhood and YEA saw the need for a healthy, affordable restaurant to bring the community together. In February 2013, the Osage Café opened on the ground floor of the new resident mid-rise for seniors and individuals with disabilities living in public housing. This restaurant with a training kitchen allows for community involvement while training youth in the industry of culinary arts and running a business. We have had a great response from employers who have hired youth who completed the culinary program and who have commented on the excellent training of their new employees.
In 2016 YEA added Arts Street to its programming. Arts Street @ YEA is a job-training program that cultivates low-income and under-served youth into valuable members of the creative workforce needed in the immediate future. It uses the power of arts and technology to engage youth in learning and career development and to nurture leadership, build integrity, and help the community at-large.
YEA expanded again and opened its newest social enterprise, Decatur Fresh in 2021. Decatur Fresh is a grocery market, workforce training program and community space. It offers local residents in the Sun Valley neighborhood affordable, nutritious, international food options while providing youth training in careers in customer service or grocery store management.